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SIGA University Network harnesses power of education to promote integrity within sport

This year, the Sport Integrity Global Alliance launched the SIGA University Network (SUN), an initiative that connects over 20 educational institutes from 14 different countries worldwide to help to build and promote the organisation’s ideals.

Dr Iain Lindsay

Several of the institutions involved will be familiar to regular readers of these pages – the likes of NYU, De Montfort and George Washington, among others – while others, such as Qatar University, the Tswane University of Technology in South Africa and Ukraine’s Borys Grinchenko Kyiv University help to provide a global outlook, as SIGA aims to seed its values in the next generation of international sports business leaders.

“Essentially, our mission is to have sport globally governed with the highest integrity standards,” says Iain Lindsay, director of research, knowledge and innovation, and scientific coordinator of the SUN. “That’s quite a broad brush, but we’re working on making sport free from unethical, illicit and criminal activity. The intention of the SUN is to actively promote education and research around these matters at some of the world’s leading universities.”

SIGA established the network after working with “a core academic stakeholder group” on various pieces of integrity-related research over the years. Lindsay says that SIGA was receiving so many great research proposals, however, that “we became concerned we were missing opportunities,” so decided to formalise those relations.

Membership is not exclusive nor based on paying a fee to join but is instead based on “a collective commitment to contributing to our global agenda,” says Lindsay. “We’re not interested in expanding for the sake of expansion. It needs to have a solid reason, and everyone is expected to be productive across our three key objectives.”

The first of those objectives is research output, with SIGA hoping that it can help its member universities’ academic work have a deeper impact across the industry – especially, as Lindsay notes, at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to mean reduced funding for those kinds of projects. “We’re acting as a platform between academia and stakeholders to create synergies, to cultivate projects, and really to emphasise projects that have a commercial aspect as well because we know that the coming financial implications of Covid are going to make it tougher for academia and research at large.

“One of the key projects that we’re delivering over the next 12 months is our white paper on sport integrity. We’ve created expert groups with top names in the world of sports – from federations, arbitration, academia – and aggregated these expectations in key areas which are: good governance and integrity, sports betting integrity, self protection and governance, safety and security and anti-doping.

“Across those groups we’re going to synthesise the landscape in terms of best-practice policy, what the key issues are, and how this relates to the lived environment and how we can move forward to battle some of these issues directly. And also what we want to do from that is to share this with the next generation.”

That leads into the second objective – knowledge transfer – which is where formalising the relationships with universities into a network of partnerships is most beneficial, Lindsay says, helping new research and thinking move more freely between institutions and academics. “We want to ensure sport integrity is a key component of university curricula to try to help fill this gap between academia, and, for want of a better word, the ‘real world’, the lived environment.”

The final objective plays into that bottom-up approach, placing the focus on the students themselves with the creation of the Future Leaders programme. The intention of that, Lindsays says, “is giving students the pathways to expand on their  research through internships, through relationships, through involvement in projects where we’re giving them a platform for recognition in terms of our Youth Council, in terms of our female leaders awards, our mentorship”.

Ultimately, the aim is to place integrity at the tops of agendas across the sector by sending graduates into the industry prepared with the tools they need. “Integrity is a small word with a huge application,” Lindsay says. “If you’re interested in good governance your areas of expertise or potential career options are very broad, whereas perhaps anti-doping is a little bit more specific, but across the board integrity issues impact the range of sport from the played environment, all the way through to the board level so it’s something that we see as a broad concern that impacts everything that sports stands for and sport delivers.

“So we’re trying to raise awareness and make sure that everybody is cognisant of the impact of integrity and trying to forward that to the key component of sports evolution in the in the near- and medium-term future.”

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